Letter Re: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as a Retreat Locale

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I am a recently retired auto worker, electrician by trade, currently live on 5 acres 25 miles north of Detroit. We have plenty of woods and a nice garden area. When we built the house back in 1987 it was out in the boonies, in the past 20 years developers have bought most of the surrounding property and subdivided it. With the exception of the two 5 acre parcels to the north of us we are completely surrounded by houses. Most of the neighbors are nice people who we get along well with. We do get some trespassers from time to time on the property, these are usually suburban people who feel that our woods is a nature sanctuary for them. When we had the major power outage 4 years ago everyone helped each other out, sharing resources. I still do not feel comfortable being so close to Detroit. Having grown up in Detroit I can vividly remember the riots that occurred in the city when I was a small child.
Our family has spent many summer vacations in the Upper Peninsula (UP) and always enjoyed the people and forests of the UP. Recently we have been considering purchasing a parcel of land in the UP and building a retreat there. We are considering the eastern or central portions of the UP. There is plenty of good water, trees, and deer and small game are in abundance. The limiting factors as we see it are the cold winters, distance, and having to cross the Mackinac Bridge. Of course hard winters seem to keep the population down, and in a worst case scenario the Bridge could be secured to limit the number of people.
We have also considered the Thumb area of Michigan. We would be interested in your opinion.- Mark G.

JWR Replies: I’ve brushed on the “U.P.” as a retreat locale a few times in SurvivalBlog, most recently on March 28, 2007, when I wrote:

If you can stand the severe climate, then yes, the U.P. is about as good as it gets for retreat locales east of the Dakotas. For a move to the U.P., plan to budget to build a big greenhouse (with a steep-pitched roof), and big woodshed. You are going to need both! Oh yes. Don’t forget to lay in a large supply of mosquito repellent.

Here are a few notes to expand on those comments: Since I’ve never lived there, I can’t add much more than that. It is probably clear to most SurvivalBlog readers that I prefer low population density rural areas west of the Great Divide. This is for three key reasons: 1.) A more livable climate with a decent growing season, 2.) Less risk of nuclear fallout, and 3.) Much lower population density. In essence, fewer people = fewer problems. I fear that much of the eastern US has so much population that in the event of a societal collapse the wild game will be decimated, and there will be so many hungry people wandering about that looting of the worst sort will quickly ensue. Read my novel “Patriots”and my non-fiction book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation for details. But it bears mentioning that the U.P. is a special case: It is an area with a low population density. It is geographically isolated from the rest of the United States. And it has such severe winters that the climate will do far more for looter control than any ballistic measures.

One other factor is not very widely known: The utility power in the U.P. is provided by Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO), which is one of the most independent utilities in the nation. While normally tied to the grid, it has enough generation capacity that it could conceivably go independent in the event of a short term grid-down situation. But I have my doubts as to whether the natural gas and coal that it uses would last very long. There are some hydroelectric dams and a few natural gas wells in the U.P., but most of their natural gas is piped long distances with the aid of compressor stations. These compressors are nearly all powered by grid power. Quelle dommage! I don’t think that the U.P. could be energy independent in a long term collapse

If you must stay in the Midwest for work or family reasons, then the U.P. is about as good as it gets. As for “the Thumb” of Michigan, it also has its merits. However, it is inferior to the U.P. in that there is no “back door” exit. But I would only feel truly “cornered” there if it were a worst case Golden Horde scenario. That might induce some severe anxiety!